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Effects studio calls on Titan NAS storage to make Incredible Hulk

Dave Raffo

BlueArc Corp.'s Titan 2200 NAS storage system helped create the green monster that begins appearing in theatres today when The Incredible Hulk action flick opens.

Soho VFX studio used the Titan NAS storage system to produce visual effects in the movie, in which actor Ed Norton transforms into the green giant known as The Hulk and Tim Roth turns into an even bigger monster.

Soho has used a Titan 2200 system for more than two years and its last four movies. The special effects shop builds its own systems and develops its own special software applications, but Soho founder and software engineer Berj Bannayan said it needed a high-end storage system to keep up with performance, as well as capacity demands of rendering effects-intensive motion pictures.

"We need throughput," Bannayan said, pointing out his Titan system peaks at around 700 MBps. "We throw a lot of data around our network without much letup. And we need reliability – 100% uptime is the only option. Unplanned disturbances can be fatal to a project the size of The Incredible Hulk."

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Soho typically gets involved in a movie after principal photography finishes. Although movie schedules may slip before and during production, Bannayan said there is no room for blown deadlines once his team's work begins. The studios that hire Soho – in the case of The Incredible Hulk, Marvel Studios – must make their scheduled opening dates.

"Downtime means we have 100 people sitting around doing nothing," Bannayan said. "That's incredibly costly and causes a great deal of uncertainty on the part of the studio. The last thing we need is a studio being uncomfortable with our work.

"And data loss is fatal," he noted. "The amount of time required to restore data is not an option. If I have to tell a studio, like Marvel or Universal, that we had a data failure, I'd rather tell the Mafia we had a data failure."

For The Incredible Hulk, Soho had about 100 artists using one Titan 2200 head with about 40 TB of raw storage. "Throughout the process, everybody on staff is pounding away at BlueArc at some point," he said.

Soho's rendering farm consists of around 1,200 CPUs, all hitting at the storage system. "The larger cluster rendering farm you have, the more throughput you need to get the movie down," Bannayan said. "Over the last five weeks [of post-production], we didn't stop rendering. We went 24 hours, seven days for five weeks without a moment's rest."

Although Soho is no stranger to effects-intensive productions, The Incredible Hulk was especially challenging because of the number of special effects shots. "What was unique was the amount of work we were doing," Bannayan said. "We had to do 150 shots of these characters throughout the movie. That presents challenges to our storage space. We have to make sure we have room for all the intermediate steps."

At a certain point you need a fire hose to move data around the network.
Berj Bannayan
Founder and software engineerSoho VFX studio
The Incredible Hulk required about 16 TB of storage, he said. Because Soho worked on The Love Guru at the same time, it used around 25 TB of the Titan's capacity.

Bannayan said each frame Soho works on takes up about 12 MB. "There are thousands of frames in a raw scan for input, output and every intermediate stage in between," he said. "One frame of finished images takes up hundreds of megabytes of data. It adds up fast."

Storing the 3-D models thaht the artists work with doing their rendering also requires a great deal of data. "At a certain point," Bannayan said, "you need a fire hose to move data around the network."


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